James Leverton struck out 10 and allowed two hits over seven innings Friday as Greensboro blanked the Hickory Crawdads, 2-0, to complete a sweep of its South Atlantic League semifinal series.
Leverton retired the first 11 Crawdads in order before Tomas Telis singled with two outs in the fourth. The 25-year-old left-hander also walked one before turning things over to the bullpen.
"It's one of those best outings I've seen in a long time, just due to the significance of the game and the lineup he faced," Grasshoppers manager Andy Haines said. "He just does his thing. He's a three-pitch guy and he can throw any pitch in any count. He's a confident guy and he can just dial it in."
Leverton was selected by the Cubs in the eighth round of the 2008 Draft but requested and was granted his release at the end of Spring Training. He signed with the Marlins last month after pitching in the independent Can-Am League.
"We saw glimpses of what he can do," Haines said. "He was hoping for an opportunity with a different organization and he has taken full advantage of it and he has shown a lot of people what he can do."
Leverton isn't the only comeback story on the club. After getting off to a poor start in the second half, the Grasshoppers caught fire down the stretch. They won 20 of their last 26 games, including four of five from the Kannapolis to conclude the regular season, to earn the Northern Division second-half title and their first trip to the playoffs since 1999.
"We were on a pretty remarkable run just to get here and we knew we had our hands full with Hickory," Haines said. "We were fortunate to come out on top."
In Game 1, 2010 first-rounder Christian Yelich hit a walk-off two-run homer in the 15th inning. That capped a game in which the Grasshoppers tied the game three times.
"We're certainly excited. We've been on this run for a while," Haines said. "We're aware that we're not done, there's still work to be done. We know we're going to have a tough series, but we're looking forward to it."
Grant Dayton and Michael Brady each pitched a perfect inning to close out the series for Greensboro.
Ryan Fisher hit a solo homer in the second to give the Grasshoppers an early lead and Noah Perio added an RBI single in the seventh.
Former second-round pick Will Lamb (0-1) took the loss after allowing a run on four hits and fanning eight over five innings.
In other South Atlantic League playoff action:
Sand Gnats 3, GreenJackets 2
Pinch-hitter Blake Forsythe delivered an RBI double in the eighth inning as Savannah avoided a sweep. Former Cy Young Award winner Johan Santana made a rehab start for the Sand Gnats and allowed an unearned run on two hits over three innings. Taylor Whitenton fanned six and gave up a run on three hits in three frames. Box score