A day after Shigeru Takada suddenly resigned as manager of the Yakult Swallows, the reins of the team were handed to head coach Junji Ogawa, for the remainder of this season at least.
With Ogawa installed as the new field boss, the last-place Swallows went into Thursday night's contest against the Rakuten Eagles looking for just their third win this month--and their first victory over Pacific League opposition since interleague play began. Yakult was 0-9 in interleague play prior to Thursday's game and 13-32-1 overall.
Ogawa took the helm after a day filled with confusion.
Prior to Wednesday's game, a 3-2 loss to the Eagles, under-fire manager Takada told the media that he had no plans to step down this season and would ride out the storm after conferring with the front office and ownership.
After the game, however, the 64-year-old skipper apparently had a change of heart and announced that he would indeed leave his post so that speculation over his future would not be a distraction for the players, who need all the focus they can get at this point.
Prior to Thursday's game, some of the Swallows players said they accepted responsibility for the team's poor start, and its consequences for Takada.
"Takada-san and I are both baseball men so I understand his feelings and I know what he's going through," Norichika Aoki, the team's star outfielder, said. "But this is not the end of the season for us, we have to keep playing and get better."
Another outfielder, Aaron Guiel, said he hoped the change would give the team a new lease on life.
"Personally, I accept a certain amount of responsibility," said Guiel, who leads the team with 12 home runs but is only hitting a shade over .200. "I feel if I played better, the team would have played better and maybe the outcome would have been different for him. But, ultimately, when a team struggles, somebody has to change the atmosphere so by him walking away, maybe it will take some of the focus off the winning and losing and maybe the team atmosphere will change. A lot of guys are curious how things will turn out, but also hopeful that this is something that will change the feeling in our clubhouse."
Takada, a former manager of the Nippon-Ham Fighters, took the Yakult job prior to the 2008 season. He led the club to a third-place finish and a Central League playoff berth last year. This season, the club got off to a decent start, but things went sour when their pitching started to falter and their offense went dead a few weeks into the season.
Team owner Tadashi Suzuki confirmed to reporters that pitching coach Daisuke Araki is a candidate to manager the Swallows next season.
In other news from inside the Swallows clubhouse, South Korean closer Lim Chang-yong was removed from the active roster with a sore knee. Lim has appeared in 13 games this year and has six saves and a 1.35 ERA. He racked up 61 saves over his first two seasons here, in 2008 and '09.
Also, American right-hander Tony Barnette has been moved from a starting role to the bullpen, at least for the remainder of the interleague schedule.
Barnette (2-4) started his NPB career on a solid note, winning his first two starts this season with an ERA of 1.73 on April 22. However, as the team has gone into a tailspin, Barnette has four losses and two no-decisions in his last six starts and his ERA has ballooned to 5.61.
"I'm fine with it," said Barnette, when asked about the move to a relief role.