An unsettled year for the Tokyo Yakult Swallows took another unexpected turn Thursday when team president Tadashi Suzuki had to address media reports that interim skipper Junji Ogawa would be replaced with less than three weeks left in the season.
The Swallows are struggling in fourth place in the Central League and Suzuki held a press conference before Yakult's matchup with the Yomiuri Giants at Jingu Stadium and addressed whether or not the club plans to make a second managerial change this season.
Suzuki dismissed talk of the 56-year-old Ogawa being replaced by pitching coach Daisuke Araki in the waning days of the season, saying the reports were premature.
"Today, at this moment, we haven't quite put all the pieces in place yet," said Suzuki, who added the idea has been discussed within the organization. "In other words, nothing has been finalized."
The Swallows, who saw manager Shigeru Takada abruptly step down in late May, have been mediocre on the field at 61-62-4.
Team officials promoted Ogawa to interim manager, saying all the while they planned to make Araki, 46, the permanent skipper in the offseason.
"We said we were going to make the change in the offseason, but the situation is different," Suzuki said.
The change would come even though Yakult has gone 48-30-3 since Ogawa took the helm.
The Swallows even made an August run toward the final Climax Series position, going 7-2 to close out the month. But they are 4-5-2 in September, including losing the first two of the current three-game set to the Giants. They started the finale 6-1/2 games behind the third-place Hanshin Tigers with 17 games left as of Thursday.
Shinya Miyamoto, a 16-year veteran with the Swallows, steered clear of the issue.
"That's something for the organization to deal with," he said.
Fourth-year import Aaron Guiel threw his support behind Ogawa.
"I think Ogawa has done a great job. He has shown a lot of patience with the players; he has shown great communication with the players. He has made the players feel comfortable so that they can play without the stress of a critical manager," the 37-year-old outfielder said by phone.
"I think he's proven that he can handle the job and handle the team. The fact is, the team has done some of the good things it has done under his leadership.
"You would wonder why they would want to make another change," said Guiel, who was deactivated in early August with a bad back and probably won't return this season. He is signed through 2011.
The Swallows were iffy from the start of the season. Under Takada, they went 20-32-1 and the skipper flip-flopped following a game at Jingu--prior to which he vowed to fight on--and announced his resignation after the team lost that night.
Eagles eye 'Little' Matsui
The Rakuten Eagles are expected to make a play for Kazuo Matsui, who returned to Japan this week after finishing the season with the Colorado Rockies' Triple-A affiliate.
The 34-year-old Matsui, who spent seven years in North America with the New York Mets and Rockies, said Wednesday night a return to the big leagues wasn't likely.
The Eagles, who remained mum on the matter, is expected to make a hard push to sign the second baseman/shortstop.