Heathcott making first big league start for Yankees

Slade HeathcottNEW YORK — Slade Heathcott spotted his name in a Major League lineup for the first time on Friday, drawing the start in center field as the Yankees opened a three-game series with the Rangers.

Heathcott made his big league debut on Wednesday as a pinch-runner, having been summoned from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre to replace the injured Jacoby Ellsbury on the active roster.

“We’re looking for quality at-bats and to play defense, is what we’re looking for from him,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. “He’s getting an opportunity to start tonight and I’m kind of excited for him.”

The Yankees’ first-round selection (29th overall) in the 2009 First-Year Player Draft, the 24-year-old Heathcott was batting .285 (43-for-151) with 16 runs, four doubles, two triples, a homer and 17 RBIs in 37 games for the RailRiders, appearing at all three outfield positions.

“I started off kind of decent, got going pretty well,” Heathcott said. “Lately I kind of cooled off a little bit, but [it was] more of just realizing I need to get back to the basics. Keep it to that and not try to do too much, don’t try to force things and try to make things happen. Just let the game come to me.”

As Heathcott said earlier this week, his road to the big leagues has been anything but uneventful. His progress was stalled by two surgeries on his right knee, two procedures on his left shoulder as well as a stint in rehab for alcohol abuse.

Despite being removed from the 40-man roster this past winter, Heathcott impressed the Yanks this spring, hitting .333 (11-for-33) as a non-roster invitee, and Girardi said that he sensed increased maturity in Heathcott’s game.

“This spring, he was healthy,” Girardi said. “I had a talk with him about how the most important thing was to stay healthy and to get at-bats. Over the period we’ve had him, he has been hurt about half the time and has not been able to show what kind of talent he has on a consistent basis. The important thing is, he has been healthy and he has played well.”

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