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02/17/10 12:41 PM EST

Recovering Lilly targets Opening Day

Cubs lefty hopes to return from shoulder surgery early

MESA, Ariz. -- There's no official date for Ted Lilly's return, but the Cubs left-hander does have a goal in mind: Opening Day.

"I don't know what the date is," Lilly said Wednesday. "I'd like to be ready when all the other healthy guys are. That would be good for me. If I can't, I'll be disappointed.

"I have to understand that sometimes you take one step back to gain a couple forward. The whole idea is to not only come back as soon as possible and be out there contributing but be productive, too."

Lilly is coming back from arthroscopic surgery in early November on his left shoulder. It was a minor procedure. He has yet to throw off a mound but is playing catch, and on Tuesday he was able to throw from about 120 feet. On Wednesday, the day pitchers and catchers report to Fitch Park, Lilly and Ryan Dempster went for a long run.

"It feels pretty strong," Lilly said of his shoulder. "I expect to be ahead of schedule, whatever schedule comes out. I think the real test is first, when you get on the mound and start throwing downhill off the slope and after that when you get into a game situation and you try to really dial it up with runners in scoring position or whatever it is -- that's when you find out how healthy you really are."

This is the final season of Lilly's three-year contract with the Cubs. He'd prefer to keep all negotiations between him and general manager Jim Hendry private, but he said it's too early to discuss a new deal.

"I haven't even thought about it," Lilly said. "The first thing that comes to mind when you talk about something like that is I've been on many teams and been in this situation before and been with a lot of players before, and I think the best thing to do is not make it be about yourself.

"I don't want to draw attention to myself in that way and distract from anything our club is trying to do. I don't think it's all about me."

A lifetime .126 hitter, Lilly can't wait to get in the cage with new hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo.

"I just briefly told him that if he can get me locked in at the plate, he's doing some serious hitting coaching," Lilly said.

Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.