MESA, Ariz. -- Cubs pitcher Ted Lilly threw 35 pitches in a three-inning simulated game Monday on a backfield at HoHoKam Park and said he hopes the next phase of his rehab is to pitch in a Cactus League game.

The left-hander, coming back from arthroscopic surgery on his shoulder in November, threw some breaking pitches to hitters for the first time.

"I felt good," Lilly said. "I was able to throw some curveballs, sliders and a few changeups. For the most part, most of the pitches I threw were fastballs."

The next step?

"What I'd like to do is pitch in a game," Lilly said. "Get some fans out there and umpires."

Cubs manager Lou Piniella knows how eager the lefty is to get some real action but wants to talk to pitching coach Larry Rothschild and athletic trainer Mark O'Neal first.

"We don't want to push him to where he's rushing himself," Piniella said. "We set a fairly doable timetable. I don't think we need to rush that at all."

Lilly isn't just projecting his next start, he's looking ahead to the regular season.

"If you ask him now, he'll tell you he thinks he can be the Opening Day starter," Piniella said. "Let's be realistic about this thing."

Piniella did say he was "encouraged" by Lilly's outing.

"I wasn't expecting him to be that far along," Piniella said.

So, maybe Opening Day isn't that far out of the question?

"Yeah, in Keokuk, Iowa," Piniella said.

He was kidding, Ted.

There has been no date set for his return to the Cubs' rotation, but the lefty could be back by mid-to-late April.

"I worked my tail off this winter," Lilly said. "I tried to get here and prepare myself so I could come back as soon as possible. The thing that slowed me down the most this spring was getting sick and missing about a week. The shoulder has felt great.

"I feel good and I want to keep going, I want to keep pushing the envelope," he said. "Certainly, I'm going to listen to my body, and if there's something going on that tells me it'd be smarter for me to slow down, I'll do that. At this point, I haven't gotten any of those signals with my shoulder."

He did give up a couple hits in the simulated game.

"[Micah] Hoffpauir hit one off a house," Lilly said. "[Robinson] Chirinos hit one off the 202 [Highway]."