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GARY — After his release by the White Sox organization — too many pitchers that could do the same thing, was the word — Jeff McKenzie decided to find a way to make baseball fun again.

"It just felt more like a job than me enjoying playing," McKenzie said. "So I felt for my career was to go overseas and have a good, fun year and get the passion back."

He was told by Amarillo's then-manager that he wouldn't play U.S. baseball again.

"I told him, 'it's a risk I'm going to have to take,'" McKenzie said.

A year in Northern France was the perfect reboot to McKenzie's career. He threw a 0.23 ERA and was 10-0 in the regular season.

When he returned to the U.S. in 2016, he sent emails around the American Association looking for a job and received word back from Bobby Brown, the Amarillo manager who was then with Lincoln in the American Association.

"He calls me up and said, 'I just got your email, remember me?'" said McKenzie, who made seven starts in 30 games in 2016 for Lincoln.

McKenzie impressed the Gary coaching staff last season, going 5-4 with a 4.32 ERA. The RailCats traded Richard Castillo for McKenzie in the offseason, with the expectation to put McKenzie in the rotation.

In his third start, McKenzie was hit in the ankle with a come-backer to the mound, and missed the next six weeks with a broken fibula.

"The positive side of a broken ankle is that he can get on his knees to throw," pitching coach Alain Quijano said. "He threw a baseball every day he was injured. Once he got cleared, we didn't have to worry about his arm, because he'd been working on it."

The injury was the first of its kind for McKenzie, who hadn't missed time during his career.

"I remember seeing the ball roll toward the first-base line and I go sprinting after it and then as soon as I fall and sit I'm just like, I've never had the feeling like I've been hit many times in my legs, but I've never had the feeling where it was broken or anything like that," McKenzie said. "This was the first time I'm like, I think it's broken.

"It was kinda the weirdest feeling I've ever had."

McKenzie returned with some spot appearances out of the bullpen before returning to the rotation. He had two five-inning starts, including a win against Winnipeg, prior to starting Tuesday's game against St. Paul.

"I spent my whole winter in Australia getting ready for this season, then getting to my third start and getting hit was definitely hard to handle," McKenzie said. "I had to keep it going and keep motivated to train and push through so that when I was cleared to go I was ready to win some games for this team for a playoff push."

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Hillary has covered prep, pro and college sports -- and even a Dixie Baseball World Series -- for newspapers north and south of the Mason-Dixon Line since 1995.