SAN FRANCISCO -- Brewers closer Trevor Hoffman is still in the "playing catch" phase of his recovery from a rib-cage injury, but those sessions should get a bit more serious beginning Thursday.

Hoffman said the plan calls for increasing both the distance and the intensity of those sessions. He threw from 60-70 feet twice during the past week, but the goal is 120 feet, after which he could move back to the pitcher's mound.

Major League Baseball's all-time saves leader hasn't pitched since March 13 because of a strained oblique muscle along the right side of his ribs.

"The effort level and the intensity combined with the distance level that I throw is probably going to give me a very good indication of my tolerance level," Hoffman said. "It's been going great."

The reports from Brewers medical staffers remain encouraging, according to manager Ken Macha.

"Yeah, we're just not to the point where we're saying, 'OK, on this date we're going to get up on a mound,'" Macha said. "It's kind of been at a snail's pace. We haven't shifted it into rapid speed just yet."

Hoffman, 41, still feels discomfort in the area, but can tell that it is on the mend. Hoffman has consulted with other Brewers who have recovered from oblique strains, including starter Braden Looper and center fielder and former Padres teammate Mike Cameron.

Looper missed about two weeks of Spring Training with a similar injury but is back on track to make his Brewers debut Friday against the Cubs in Milwaukee's home opener. Hoffman is eligible to return from the disabled list Saturday, but his debut will have to wait.

"You have to be smart about it," Hoffman said. "Roger [Caplinger, Milwaukee's head athletic trainer] has done a nice job of knowing how much to push it and when to push it."

Hoffman is on the DL for the first time since 2003, when he underwent right shoulder surgery in late February and didn't return to action until Sept. 2.

But that was different, he said, because Padres trainers were able to lay out a detailed timetable from the day he went under the knife. The finicky nature of oblique injuries makes that impossible for Caplinger & Co. to do the same, so Hoffman must simply stay patient.

"Their point is not to get too excited, to put too much out there and then have a setback," Hoffman said. "I want to fly under the radar."