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RED SOX NOTEBOOK

Pitching still the priority as Craig Breslow unveils new Red Sox director of pitching

Craig Breslow, shown at his introductory press conference in November, made clear Monday at the Winter Meetings that the primary Red Sox need remains starting pitching.Barry Chin/Globe Staff

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The Red Sox went into this offseason intimating they would like to add a right-handed bat to help balance their lineup. Yet on Day 1 of Major League Baseball’s Winter Meetings, chief baseball officer Craig Breslow made it clear that is more a second-tier mission.

“It seems that the way this is playing out there, there’s kind of a natural sequencing where most teams are focused on their primary needs,” Breslow said Monday afternoon from his hotel suite at the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center. “Those primary needs are starting pitching, and as a result, it seems like the position-player market is maybe a little bit slower to materialize. Similarly, we’re focused on starting pitching.”

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How the Sox acquire that starting pitching is yet to be determined, but Breslow noted the need to also build from within, remaining true to the stance that Garrett Whitlock, Tanner Houck, and Kutter Crawford will be built up as starters heading into next spring.

“I think all of the guys that you mentioned have the ability to get through a lineup multiple times, and have the ability to platoon neutrality and get righties and lefties out,” Breslow said. “I think there’s some kind of pitch usage optimization opportunities for us, but feel like there’s real starter upside in all of those guys.”

Breslow recently hired highly-coveted pitching coach Andrew Bailey to take over that role in Boston. On Monday, Breslow announced Justin Willard as his director of pitching. The 33-year-old spent six years with the Twins, three as minor league pitching coordinator, and previously was a coach at Radford University.

“He’s someone that comes with a pretty strong track record of pitching development,” Breslow said. “You’re mindful of what Minnesota has done over the last few years with the development of some of their guys. So we feel really lucky, really fortunate.

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“He spent quite a bit of time with Andrew Bailey and we feel like those two will be in lockstep. Pitching development is something that I feel comfortable kind of diving into, and I feel like we’ve got the foundation for a really strong infrastructure.”

With Willard on board, former director of pitching development Shawn Haviland has moved to a new role as special assistant in player development. Haviland will remain involved in pitching development while also connecting with other aspects of baseball ops.

Craig Breslow provided an optimistic update on Chris Sale's offseason work.Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff

Another winter of Sale optimism

Chris Sale finished the 2023 season on the active roster, compiling a 4.30 ERA in 102⅔ innings (20 starts). Breslow is confident the lefthander can have a healthy offseason, something Sale hasn’t experienced in more than five years.

“He’s throwing. He’s throwing off the mound,” said Breslow. “He feels good about his progress and the offseason. I mean, the reality is when he’s on the mound, he’s a really good major-league pitcher. We just have to get him on the mound every five days.

There were moments last season when Sale looked like his old self, pumping in 97-m.p.h. fastballs to go with his signature back-foot slider. Yet a stress reaction in his left shoulder forced Sale into yet another injured list stint, keeping him out of games for 10 weeks.

Internal addition at corner

Breslow revealed that the new third-base coach will be an internal hire.

“I think it’s an opportunity to increase accountability across our major league staff. To give the group a chance to step up and take additional responsibility,” he said. “So, I think we’re really excited about it.”

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Infield coordinator Andy Fox is a strong candidate. He’s been in the organization for more than a decade, originally hired as minor league infield coordinator in 2011. He was promoted to the big-league club before the start of the 2021 season.

First base coach Kyle Hudson could be another internal candidate, but perhaps he’s better suited in his current role. In his first year with the club, Hudson helped base runners pick up pitchers’ tendencies, and assisted runners in getting better jumps on their steal attempts. (Jarren Duran, for example, swiped 24 bags in 26 tries.) Hudson’s work extended to the outfield and was equally impressive there, assisting Duran with his jumps in center field while also helping Alex Verdugo become a Gold Glove finalist in right.

Familiar faces

Former Sox players Brock Holt, Ryan Lavarnway, and Deven Marrero dropped by the Opryland. All three have ended their playing careers and are looking to stay involved in the game. Holt will represent the Sox at the Draft Lottery on Tuesday . . . Brennan Bernardino, Triston Casas, Chris Murphy, and Brandon Walter will take part in a holiday caravan Tuesday and Wednesday that plans to make stops at The BASE in Roxbury, the West End House Boys & Girls Club, the Greater Boston Food Bank, and Boston-area hospitals . . . Former Red Sox lefthander Eduardo Rodriguez, a free agent, is meeting personally with teams here . . . The Brewers held a press conference for 19-year-old Venezuelan Jackson Chourio, whom the club inked to an eight-year, $82-million contract — a record-setting deal for a player yet to debut in the big leagues. Red Sox assistant general manager Michael Groopman was the head of Milwaukee’s international scouting when they signed the outfielder.

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Julian McWilliams can be reached at julian.mcwilliams@globe.com. Follow him @byJulianMack.