Paul's first start in left comes against Nats' ace

Paul's first start in left comes against Nats' ace

CINCINNATI -- Reds outfielder Xavier Paul welcomed getting his first start of the season in left field Sunday, even if that meant facing Nationals ace Stephen Strasburg.

It's not easy to sit for a few days and then face anyone, let alone Strasburg, but Paul is used to the role of a fourth or fifth outfielder.

"I think as time has gone on, I found a little bit better way to prepare myself mentally and physically," Paul said. "It's tough. The biggest challenge is keeping your body physically in good shape, keeping your legs loose after sitting down for four days and then playing nine innings without hurting anything."

Paul keeps busy before and during games by doing extra running, sprint and agility drills -- and of course, extra swings.

"After that, it's just mental," Paul said. "It's mentally telling yourself, 'Hey, I can get the job done.'"

Paul went 2-for-4 on Sunday with an RBI. Reds manager Dusty Baker batted him second between Shin-Soo Choo and Joey Votto to give three straight lefties for Strasburg to face. Last season, lefty hitters batted .271 vs. Strasburg vs. .185 for right-handed hitters.

Baker acknowledged that Paul's job is not an easy one.

"I think him playing as much as he did during Spring Training, it's only been about a week since we were there, it gives him an advantage than if I had waited a month," Baker said.

Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Mark My Word, and follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.