After tossing 73 pitches in four simulated innings Wednesday, it appears that Francisco Liriano is one step closer to rejoining the Pirates rotation.
One day after that outing, Liriano decided he felt well enough to begin a rehab assignment Monday for Class AAA Indianapolis. He expects to throw roughly 85 pitches in what will be his first outing since straining his left oblique June 10.
Neither he nor Pirates manager Clint Hurdle would commit to an immediate return after the All-Star break, but Liriano said he was pleased with the way he felt and the sharpness of his pitches in the simulated game.
"I'm very happy with the way I felt yesterday and I'm pretty happy with where I'm at right now," he said before the game Thursday against the Arizona Diamondbacks. "We'll see Monday."
"I don't want to get in front of us," Hurdle explained. "I want to make sure that we're good with him and give him the time, the mound time that he needs to get confidence back in his body, his arm, his delivery and all those things. I think we'll just continue to take it one outing at a time and get his feedback as we continue to push forward."
Liriano was injured on a fourth-inning pitch against the Chicago Cubs. Facing Anthony Rizzo, Liriano began to feel a "bad discomfort" in his left side and was taken out of the game before he could finish the at-bat.
The suddenness of the injury, Liriano said, affected his mentality once he was finally able to begin throwing. As his rehab proceeded, however, he began to regain confidence in his arm.
"Now, I just feel more freedom mentally," he said. "I don't feel it at all, so everything feels good now."
Pitchers turning it around
While the Pirates await the return of their opening day starter, the current pitching staff has led them to a 9-2 record in the 11 games before Thursday. Pirates starters were 7-2 with a 2.43 ERA in that span; the relievers 2-0 with a 2.77 ERA.
Those results are a far cry from where the pitching staff stood one month ago. Pirates pitchers posted a collective 4.20 ERA in May and, as a result, the team went 15-14 that month.
Hurdle said results from a recent meeting held to revisit what made the staff successful in the playoff run last season have been visible and positive.
"I think part of the help was we revisited our core convictions off the mound in what we needed to do, and the time in here last year where we had a similar challenge and what we were able to do to stabilize it," Hurdle said. "
It's going to spots, getting strike one, downhill angle, focusing on getting people out quick and efficiently. In a similar situation, it was brought up this year, just to revisit and remind them."
McCutchen in lineup
Andrew McCutchen was back in the lineup and in center Thursday after a foul ball off his left foot caused him to leave the game Wednesday before the top of the ninth.
The foul ball occurred during the eighth Wednesday, but McCutchen finished the at-bat with an RBI single before being replaced defensively by Starling Marte.
He decided the foot felt well enough to play Thursday, giving Hurdle the thumbs-up to pencil him into the lineup in his usual third spot in the batting order.
Jourdon LaBarber: email@example.com and Twitter @jourdonlabarber.