SOUTH BEND, Ind. — There it went, 500 feet if it was an inch. Well, let’s just say it was a long home run pulled over the bleachers in left. Somebody named Joey Morgan hit it for the West Michigan Whitecaps, and the reason that’s important is the ’Caps were facing a not-so-fresh-faced right-handed prospect by the name of Yu Darvish.
Ugh, now Darvish can’t get a Class A catcher out. The sky officially has fallen upon Cubdom.
But we only kid. Darvish’s rehab start Monday with the South Bend Cubs went well — or so it appeared. The four-time All-Star threw 57 pitches — 41 of them strikes — in five innings, striking out five, walking none, allowing one run and mixing in various bits and pieces of his usual repertoire, from a 62 mph curve to a 94 mph fastball.
Morgan will remember the solo homer forever. Darvish likely forgot all about it by the time what’s-his-name was rounding second base.
‘‘I was going for four innings, and I was able to pitch through five,’’ he said through an interpreter. ‘‘So I’ll give myself a 12 out of 10.’’
A 12 on a scale on 10? Now that’s a ranking befitting a $126 million pitcher. The only troubling thing is, well, Darvish was kind of all over the place after his outing.
He gave himself a 12, yet he also called the way he threw and felt ‘‘not perfect.’’
He said if it were up to him, he might ‘‘rush’’ back into the Cubs’ rotation. Yet he also said he felt fatigue in his triceps — ‘‘I can’t say for sure there’s nothing going on,’’ he added — and that’s alarming, considering his triceps is the key to the whole operation. A few years back, that’s where Darvish felt the discomfort that eventually led to Tommy John surgery. Once a pitcher has gone down that road, he’s never going to take a twinge in the triceps lightly again.
No one wants to see Darvish’s time with the Cubs turn into a sad story of injuries.
Yet the Cubs suddenly seem to need him more than ever, don’t they? After the four-game debacle in Cincinnati that started their road trip, gone was the storyline about the Cubs winning without their blue-chip free agent. With Duane Underwood (who?) starting the series opener Monday in Los Angeles, with bullpen stars Brandon Morrow and Carl Edwards Jr. out with injuries, with Kris Bryant a lingering question mark, everything surrounding Darvish’s return to the rotation has taken on a heightened urgency.
Maybe it’s an understatement to say the Cubs need Darvish. The truth is, they might be lost without him.
‘‘I want to come back as soon as possible and help out the team,’’ he said. ‘‘I obviously want the team to win. Then again, my body has to feel right and healthy. So in that sense, there’s nothing I can do right now.’’
Darvish said before this trip to Notre Dame’s backyard that he thought one rehab start would do it. He left Four Winds Field in a different state of mind.
‘‘No clue,’’ he said. ‘‘I have to discuss with the staff [Tuesday in Los Angeles].’’
Not even the foremost Darvish skeptic could have imagined he would have only one big-league victory at the end of June, but that’s what we’re looking at. Darvish’s sorry stat line — the 1-3 record, the 4.95 ERA, the seven homers allowed in 40 innings — has been frozen in time since May 20.
Here in the hinterlands, where the advertisers on the outfield wall include Stanz Foodservice, Louie’s Tux Shop and Martin’s Groceries to Go, the site of Darvish was just plain strange. As he warmed up before the start of the game, a ‘‘host’’ on the field made ridiculous puns into a microphone:
‘‘How are YOU doing?’’
‘‘Hope YOU had a great weekend.’’
‘‘Hope YOU enjoy the game tonight.’’
That’s almost as clever as having a tiki bar on the concourse beyond the left-field bleachers. Because what says exotic more than Michiana?
Seriously, what was a $126 million man doing in a place like this?
The Cubs need him back, like, yesterday. Darvish appeared to throw the ball like a man who’s close to ready. Alas, his own assessment clouded the picture even more than it was before he got here.
‘‘It’s not really up to me to decide,’’ he said.
No, but it eventually might be up to him to make or break the Cubs’ season. Not to mention the next several after that.