Fifth seed Nadal, who could meet reigning champion Novak Djokovic in the quarter-finals, improved his Roland Garros record to 106 wins and just three losses since his 2005 title-winning debut.
"I'm very happy with the victory today. I'm happy to get through in three sets," said Nadal, seeded outside the top four in Paris for just the second time in his career.
"It's a first round, a positive match for me. Straight sets but with significant room for improvement."
The Spaniard will play Corentin Moutet in round two after the French wildcard defeated 2015 champion Stan Wawrinka in four sets.
Nadal has yet to win a tournament on clay this season, and was hobbled by the recurrence of a foot injury at the Italian Open earlier this month.