08/24/2017 10:39 AM -
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: (August 24, 2017)
LINCOLN, NEB — Jeff McKenzie picked up his fourth victory of the season on Tuesday, but this win had special significance. Not only did he defeat the team with the best record in the American Association in the Lincoln Saltdogs, but he also faced his former team for the first time. The 26-year-old was a member of the Saltdogs last season and the RailCats acquired the southpaw on January 4 in a trade.
“It was a little weird, but kind of fun at the same time. I loved all the guys on the team, they are all great guys,” he said. “So, it was kind of fun to see how I do against my old former teammates who knew how I pitched.”
Even though he is familiar with his former teammates in Lincoln, McKenzie still had to make in-game adjustments.
“They were a fastball hitting team, and I was giving into that in the first couple innings [by] throwing fastballs, [I] really wasn’t locating my fastball very well,” he said. “[T]hey were making me pay for it early on. So, after the second inning I came to the dugout and talked to Wilfredo, and said we are going [to throw] all off-speed [pitches], and then making them beat me with the off-speed and that’s what worked with me for the rest of the game [by] just pitching backwards.”
Lincoln also has a special place in his heart as his girlfriend is from the area. McKenzie met her “walking around town,” as he puts it, and their relationship sprouted after that. Even though he does not see her much during the season, she, as well as other family members, make frequent trips to Gary to see him pitch.
“It’s very nice. I love having family [at games] whenever I can get [them to come]. My family has come out a couple times this year, and then [my girlfriend] made a couple of trips,” said McKenzie. “[I]t’s really been nice to have some familiar faces to cheer me on and make things feel more comfortable when I’m out there.”
Health-wise, 2017 has not gone as planned for McKenzie. Just 13 days into the season, McKenzie fractured his left fibula after a hard-hit line drive from a Kansas City T-Bones’ player. He was off the RailCats roster for nearly two months as he rejoined the RailCats on July 20.
Even though the California native has appeared in 19 fewer games thus far than he did in Lincoln last season, he has made one more start in 2017 and only has one fewer win in Gary than he did in Lincoln; not to mention his ERA is 24 points lower.
McKenzie thinks part of the reason he, and the rest of the RailCats pitching staff, has been extremely effective as of late is due to the diversity of each starting pitcher’s style.
“Every team has guys throwing 95 [miles-per-hour and] starters who throw 91-94 with good sliders and sinkers. So that’s all people see in this league. Then they come face us and see back-to-back mid-80’s pitchers [in Alex Gunn and myself],” he said. “It’s not an easy adjustment, sometimes it takes a couple of game to get [adjusted]. By the time they get adjusted to us, they have to get a hard throwing righty again in Daniel Minor.”
“I was taught [how I pitch now] . . . in college. I never was never the overpowering guy. I never threw 95 miles-per-hour, and can just blow it by people. I definitely had to learn to be able to pitch, not just throw, but pitch. I had some great mentors when I was in college,” said McKenzie. “[T]hey really taught me what to get inside the hitter’s mind and know what they want, and do the exact opposite,” he said.
When the RailCats acquired McKenzie from Lincoln, the team knew that he was not going to light up the radar gun, but they knew he would be effective. He has certainly lived up to expectations in his brief time in Gary.
Gary concludes its seven-game road trip on Thursday evening at 6:45 p.m. against Lincoln. Daniel Minor (1-0, 3.55) makes his fourth start of the year for Gary while the Saltdogs send southpaw Bennett Parry (2-1, 2.17).
Gary returns home to U.S. Steel Yard on Friday, August 25th, for a three-game series vs. Kansas City at 7:10 p.m. Friday’s game is Stand Up to Cancer Night, features a Hat Giveaway and is another Fireworks Friday. The first 1,000 fans receive a hat, courtesy of Methodist Hospitals, while Fireworks and Stand Up to Cancer Night are presented by Fifth Third Bank.
Jared Shlensky and Austin Anderson bring you all 100 RailCats games this season on WEFM (95.9 FM) and online at railcatsbaseball.com. Fans can purchase tickets for RailCats home games by calling (219) 882-BALL or online at railcatsbaseball.com. The RailCats box office is open Monday through Friday from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
A day at U.S. Steel Yard is non-stop fun, and that's even without the baseball! The RailCats promise a wide array of laugh-out-loud between inning entertainment, great giveaways, jaw-dropping fireworks and a family-first, kid-friendly atmosphere! RailCats fans come in all ages, shapes, and sizes, and the RailCats promise every fan will have fun.
U.S. Steel Yard
One Stadium Plaza
Gary, IN 46402