Chicago Cubs Manager Lou Piniella expects pitcher Ted Lilly to be back from shoulder surgery by May 1. Chicago Cubs General Manager Jim Hendry expects pitcher Ted Lilly to be back from shoulder surgery by April 15.

Chicago Cubs pitcher Ted Lilly expects to be back from shoulder surgery by 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.”

Realistically, there’s no chance Lilly is back by Opening Day. Not because he might not be recovered by then, but because the Cubs will take no chances with a guy as important as Lilly. This does make it more likely, however, that the Cubs will be able to go without a fifth starter for the first couple of weeks of the season, and then will get Lilly back before May rolls around.