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Seibu Lions infielder Kazuo Matsui, who became eligible for free agency this season and has drawn the interest of several major league clubs, has already been asked to return to the Pacific League club next season, general manager Kenji Ono said Monday.

Ono had earlier indicated that he would respect Matsui’s rights as a free agent and had no plans to try to prevent the infielder from exploring options with other teams, including a possible jump to the major leagues. He has apparently changed his position.

“I met with him (Matsui) recently and told him I’d like him to stay with the club,” Ono said.

“The players, the coaches and all of us in the front office want him to stay.”

Matsui finished the regular season with a .305 average with 179 hits, 33 homers and 84 RBIs.

Dragons sink ‘Stars

YOKOHAMA (Kyodo) Right-hander Shinya Okamoto pitched five-plus innings of two-run ball and Masahiko Morino hit a two-run blast for the Chunichi Dragons, who outlasted the Yokohama BayStars 6-5 Monday night at Yokohama Stadium.

Okamoto (4-6) limited the damage to five hits with one walk and two strikeouts.

With one out in the fifth, Kosuke Fukudome hit a sacrifice fly to right field and another run scored on a wild pitch to make it 4-0 in favor of the Dragons before the home team’s short-lived rally began the following inning.

Hitoshi Taneda delivered a two-run double to cut the deficit in the sixth while pinch hitter Hitoshi Tamura smacked an RBI double to make it 5-3.

Chunichi added its sixth and final run in the top of the eighth on a Motonobu Tanishige RBI single.

Giants to release infielder Kawai

Yomiuri Giants infielder Masahiro Kawai, who recently announced he will retire after this season, has instead been released from the Central League club with the hopes of continuing his career in baseball, general manager Hideaki Miyama said Monday.

Newly appointed manager Tsuneo Horiuchi planned to use Kawai as a coach for the Giants next season but the 39-year-old did an about-face Sunday, saying he would like to continue playing baseball.

“In the end he wasn’t able to part ways with baseball, so he decided that even another team will be fine,” Miyama said.

“If that’s the case, I thought we should go ahead and make an announcement.”

Kawai batted a career .266 with 42 homers and 312 RBIs in 1,709 games with the Giants.

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