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Swallows hope replacement manager Ogawa can turn things around

by Jason Coskrey

Shigeru Takada’s departure from the Tokyo Yakult Swallows on Wednesday leaves the struggling Central League team under the stewardship of head coach Junji Ogawa.

Ogawa’s role as interim manager is becoming a familiar one in the NPB. Takada’s exit marks the third straight year a manager has resigned midseason.

Though compared with Major League Baseball, in-season turnover is still a relatively rare situation in Japanese baseball.

Ogawa’s appointment marks the fifth time this century that a fill-in manager has been needed in a Japanese dugout. The MLB saw four such instances in 2009 alone, and has already replaced one skipper (Trey Hillman in Kansas City) this year.

Not to say that Japanese baseball hasn’t had its fair share of replacements in the past.

The Chunichi Dragons employed three managers in 1995, with Morimichi Takagi starting the season before giving way to Sadayuki Tokutake, who was replaced by Ikuo Shimano.

The Hanshin Tigers were less fickle with their hiring practices that season, hitching their wagon to Taira Fujita . . . after naming him as Katsuhiro Nakamura’s replacement earlier in the year.

The Dragons and Tigers brought up the rear in the Central League in 1995, and the Swallows will be hoping to avoid the same fate this season.

The 2003 Orix BlueWave finished in last place in the Pacific League after being managed by Hiromichi Ishige, who quit during the season, and Leon Lee.

Illness forced Fukuoka Softbank Hawks skipper Sadaharu Oh from his post in 2006 (he would return in 2007), but replacement Hiroshi Moriwaki was able to rally the troops to a third-place finish.

A bad record and clubhouse turmoil forced Terry Collins to leave the Orix Buffaloes in 2008, but like Moriwaki, interim manager Daijiro Oishi led the team on a surprising run into the Pacific League Climax Series.

The 2009 season saw Yokohama BayStars manager Akihiko Oya take a “rest,” but the damage had been done by the time he departed as the team finished in last place under interim skipper Tomio Tashiro.

The Swallows blew a ninth-inning lead in Ogawa’s first game on Thursday, but staved off a 10th straight loss with a 3-3 tie against the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles.

Game on: The NPB had its first press conference to promote the 2010 All-Star series this week and former Hanshin Tigers pitching great Yutaka Enatsu issued a challenge for Hokkaido Nippon Ham’s Yu Darvish.

Appearing alongside the Yomiuri Giants’ Tatsunori Hara and Fighters manager Masataka Nashida (the skippers for this year’s series), Enatsu said he would like to see Darvish attempt to match his All-Star record of nine consecutive strikeouts.

Enatsu opened the 1971 All-Star series by striking out all nine batters he faced in his three innings of work at Koshien Stadium. Among the nine All-Stars he struck out, seven went down swinging.

Proving he wasn’t a one-trick pony, Enatsu homered to right during the second inning of the Central League’s 5-0 win.

Yomiuri Giants hurler Suguru Egawa nearly matched the record in 1984, striking out eight consecutive batters.

Unstoppable: Fukuoka Softbank Hawks ace Toshiya Sugiuchi extended his dominance in the month of May on Wednesday by allowing just two runs and striking out eight in an eight-inning demolition of the Yomiuri Giants.

That 10-2 Softbank victory gave Sugiuchi his 14th consecutive victory in May dating back to 2007. Sugiuchi is 14-0 with a 1.44 ERA, 144 strikeouts and 0.97 WHIP in his last 18 starts in May.