Paul: It’s all about contact

In the case of Reds outfielder Xavier Paul, a late-summer addition last season who provided one of the year’s most memorable moments, his spring numbers aren’t completely indicative of how he’s swinging the bat.

Paul entered Wednesday’s game against the San Francisco Giants hitting just under .300 in 13 games. Certainly nothing to scoff at, but not a number that puts a stranglehold on the roster spot he’s coveting, either.

Paul has barely missed on a number of occasions, though, pulling the ball just foul, and reminding the Reds braintrust of his deft hands at the plate.

“I think the most important thing in spring is contact. I don’t worry too much if I’m pulling balls down the line,” Paul said. “Naturally, early in spring you’re going to have guys cheating to the fastball a little bit. It takes time. It takes at-bats to get your rhythm and find the middle of the field.

“But the most important thing is just getting a piece of the ball.”

On a team with plenty of big-name components, the former L.A. Dodger provides Dusty Baker a left-handed bat off the bench in crucial situations. Paul hit .333 as a pinch-hitter in limited action with Cincinnati last season, including a dramatic ninth-inning homer off Pittsburgh’s Joel Hanrahan on Sept. 30 in what proved to be a Reds victory.

And with Baker looking for small pieces to augment a power-packed every day lineup, Paul could help the team with just occasional contributions.

“He’s a very good fit,” Baker said. “He’s more of corner man. He gives me a left-handed bat off the bench. You try to have balance off the bench. Not to say he’s on the team, but he’s a front-runner. You want some speed.”

After shining in the Dodgers organization up through a 2008 season at Triple-A Las Vegas that saw him hit .316 with 28 doubles and 17 stolen bases, Paul suffered through a roller-coaster 2009. He was called up to the big leagues to replace Manny Ramirez after the slugger was slapped with a 50-game suspension for violating the league’s drug policy, but then was forced out of the lineup by a skin infection. While rehabbing, he suffered micro-fractures in his right ankle, and missed the rest of the season.

He’s bounced around after that before landing a minor-league deal last July with Cincinnati.

Paul was in the lineup again on Wednesday, filling the role of designated hitter, and his laid back Louisiana demeanor comes through in the clubhouse. Although some of the liners he’s hit this spring haven’t counted, he isn’t pressing. He does, after all, have a pair of doubles and a home run among his seven hits.

“You care when things aren’t falling right, but you don’t put too much pressure or beat yourself up. It’s a game of inches,” Paul said. “We’ve hit a lot of balls right at people, a lot of hard balls that have been hit hard. But then you get some bloopers that end up going for hits, too. It starts to even out as things move along.”

Paul still has to fend off youngsters like Billy Hamilton, Donald Lutz and Derrick Robinson for the fifth outfielder spot, but he’s shown nothing in camp to think the Reds would push a prospect along quicker than expected. Now a veteran, Paul knows the odds are good he’ll be sticking around with a club expected to do big things.

“I feel pretty good. I’m in a good place. The team looks like we’re in really good shape,” Paul said. “And I feel really good about the way things have gone along so far.”

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