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Heathcott overcomes much to join Yankees

Club's former top prospect called up from Triple-A for first Major League experience

WASHINGTON -- It was just six months ago that Slade Heathcott was sitting at home, his right knee issuing refusals to respond to rehab in the form of sharp, shooting pain. The former Yankees top prospect found his career at a crossroads, wondering if he would ever set foot on a baseball diamond again.

The Yankees appeared ready to move on, even non-tendering him off their 40-man roster. A new workout program and a strong spring turned his trajectory around, and Heathcott had the chance to dress in a big league uniform for the first time on Wednesday evening at Nationals Park.

Heathcott entered as a pinch-runner in the eighth inning and remained in the game to play center field but did not get to bat in the Yankees' 3-2 loss to the Nationals.

"At the end of November this past offseason, I didn't know if I was going to be able to play again, let alone be here," Heathcott said. "All of it, getting the call and all that, it's been very surreal."

The talented 24-year-old from Texarkana, Ark., was the Yanks' first-round selection in the 2009 First-Year Player Draft, but his path to the Majors was stalled by injuries -- two major knee surgeries, plus a shoulder procedure -- and off-field issues.

After a checkered childhood that saw him live out of a truck during his senior year of high school, Heathcott sought treatment for alcohol abuse on the Yankees' watch and credits his embrace of religion for helping restore the luster to his prospect status.

"Hopefully this can be the start of a lot of things," Heathcott said. "It's been a long road, but it definitely hasn't been a boring one."

Heathcott said that he was diagnosed with lateral compression syndrome in his right knee, which hindered his rehab from surgery. After three weeks on a different program, hooking up with a trainer in Orlando, Fla., Heathcott said that he was able to resume playing in games.

Video: [email protected]: Heathcott doubles to give Yanks an early lead

"I haven't felt my knee since before Spring Training started," Heathcott said.

In 37 games at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, Heathcott was batting .285 (43-for-151) with 16 runs, four doubles, two triples and 17 RBIs, playing all three outfield positions.

That followed a strong spring in which he batted .333 in 23 games and earned the James P. Dawson Award, issued annually to the top rookie in Yanks camp.

"I think the kid's had to overcome a lot, not only growing up but even here, the injuries that he's had to overcome and being taken off the 40-man roster," manager Joe Girardi said. "He's made some really good adjustments."

Though Heathcott was not in the Yankees' lineup on Wednesday, Girardi said that he plans to give Heathcott a few starts in the near future, as well as use him as a pinch-runner or defensive replacement.

"That's out of my control. I'm just happy to be here," Heathcott said.

Bryan Hoch is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @bryanhoch, on Facebook and read his MLBlog, Bombers Beat.
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