from Bill Hass with Bill on Baseball, at www.gsohoppers.com:
Leverton creates his own super character
It was “Superhero Day” at Sunday’s game, with the Grasshoppeers’ staff dressed in an assortment of costumes ranging from Wolverine to Supergirl to a purple-suited Joker.
And there was one character nobody expected. James Leverton donned an orange jersey, white pants and green hat and became “Mr. Dominant.” The left-hander threw seven shutout innings, striking out 13, as the Hoppers dispatched Delmarva 6-0. The win kept the Hoppers in the thick of the second-half pennant race in the Southern Division of the SAL.
“My breaking ball set up my fastball and I was hitting my spots today,” he said. “I’m usually more of a ground-ball pitcher, but when I get two strikes on someone I’ll go for the strikeout.”
Leverton’s experience showed. He’s 25, originally drafted by the Cubs in 2008, and he pitched well in their system as a starter and a reliever, going 20-15 overall. He was 10-1 with a 2.75 ERA in 49 relief appearances with three teams last season. But when he felt that he didn’t seem to fit in their plans this year, he asked for his release at the end of spring training.
“They gave it to me, which was pretty nice because they didn’t have to,” Leverton said.
It was a risky move on his part. While he wanted to remain in organized ball, he knew that wouldn’t happen right away. He sorted out offers from independent teams and signed with the New Jersey Jackals of the Can-Am League. There he made 13 starts and rang up an 8-4 record and 2.38 ERA.
“It’s a great place and I learned a lot there,” Leverton said. “I had faith in myself that I would get back in organized ball. I didn’t know when or who.”
It turned out to be the Florida Marlins, who purchased his contract on Aug. 1 and assigned him to Greensboro.
“There were a couple of guys coming off the DL (Kyle Winters and Zach Neal) and I could pitch four or five innings behind them,” Leverton said.
In his first four appearances, Leverton piggybacked on Winters’ starts, entering the game when Winters reached his pitch count. He picked up two wins, and one loss, in those games and knew he would pitch every fifth day. When Neal went back on the DL, Leverton was moved into the rotation and Sunday was his first start.
“I’ve been a starter all season and I know the routine of it,” he said. “It feels good to work up a sweat before the game.”
He made the Shorebirds sweat during the game. Leverton struck out two batters in every inning except the third, when he fanned just one. He gave up four hits and one walk and allowed two base runners in the same inning just once. That came in the seventh, when he surrendered a single, a walk and a wild pitch and had runners on second and third with one out. He got out of that with a short fly ball out and a strikeout to end his day.
Pitching coach Willie Glen said “dominant” was the word he put in his report.
“He established his fastball early in the game,” Glen said. “His curve was a little inconsistent, then it got pretty good as the game went on. He threw first-pitch strikes to 16 of 28 batters and even when he missed he came right back with a strike to make it 1-and-1.”
It was an old-fashioned pitchers’ duel, scoreless for five innings, as Delmarva’s Jake Cowan matched zeroes with Leverton. In the bottom of the sixth, the Hoppers scratched out a run when Marcell Ozuna drew a walk and eventually scored on Aaron Dudley’s single.
In the bottom of the seventh, Mark Canha drilled a three-run homer (following up his grand slam Saturday) and J.T. Realmuto had an RBI single. Ryan Fisher polished off the scoring with a solo homer in the eighth. Brett Zawacki pitched the final two innings to preserve the shutout.
Leverton has gotten into the excitement of the Hoppers hot streak. They’ve won five straight and six out of seven on this home stand.
“They sent me here because of the pennant race,” he said. “This is the most fun I’ve had in over a year.”
THE RACES: Kannapolis (37-26) split a doubleheader with Rome and remained in first place by half a game over Hickory (35-25). Lakewood (33-27) is in third place, 2 1/2 games back and the Hoppers (33-29) have moved into fourth, 3 1/2 behind. Fading Hagerstown (31-31) is now 5 1/2 back.
In the wild card race, which matters only if Hickory finishes first, the Hoppers have pulled to within 1 1/2 games of Kannapolis. The Intimidators are 74-57, Greensboro is 73-59 and Hagerstown is 71-61.
Hickory is playing at Lakewood, where Saturday’s and Sunday’s games were postponed because of Hurricane Irene. The Crawdads will play doubleheaders today and Tuesday and the outcomes will have a big effect on the standings.