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Nats reunite college teammates in Draft

Nats reunite college teammates in Draft

WASHINGTON -- When right-hander Chris McKenzie moved from Framingham, Mass., to Houston to play baseball for San Jacinto College North, he didn't know what to expect.

The culture was different than what he was used to, and so were his teammates and friends.

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"It was difficult at first, but I got over it," McKenzie said. "I just wanted to keep playing baseball, so I got used to it."

One person to help him adjust was fellow pitcher Mark Herrera.

That close relationship will continue together in the coming years, as the Nationals selected both McKenzie and Herrera in the First-Year Player Draft on Tuesday.

McKenzie was chosen in Round 13 -- 386th overall, while Herrera was taken in Round 16, at 476th overall.

"We spent a lot of time together this year, especially down in the bullpen before games," Herrera said. "It means a lot to be drafted by the same team, because we'll have someone to talk to and hang out with."

When told the Nationals chose him, McKenzie said he was very excited to be taken by a franchise with so much potential.

"They have [Stephen] Strasburg coming up, making his Major League debut, so that's pretty exciting," McKenzie said. "I know they are an up-and-coming team that will be good in a few years."

McKenzie went 7-1 last season with a 2.27 ERA. He also struck out 68 batters in 67 1/3 innings. He utilized a fastball that consistently was between 91-94 mph. McKenzie also has good control of his slider.

Herrera, used primarily in a setup role for the Gators, was 2-2 with a 1.03 ERA and 37 strikeouts in only 26 1/3 innings. His top two pitches are also a low-mid 90s fastball and mid-80s slider.

Both pitchers were major contributors to a Gators team that reached the National Junior College World Series.

San Jacinto College North manager Tom Arrington said both McKenzie and Herrera have been clocked at 97 mph this season.

"I think they are both projected to have even more growth in them," Arrington said. "They have very fresh arms and I like their stuff. I expect them to do very well on the next level."

If both sign with the Nationals, Herrera and McKenzie could start with the same Minor League affiliate..

McKenzie, moving again to continue his dream of playing baseball, said he believes the change won't be as difficult as the first.

Herrera will be there again to help with the adjustment.

"Mark is one of my good friends and a very good baseball player," Herrera said. "It's going to be great to pursue our careers together."

Greg Rosenstein is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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