ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- To compare the relative chaos of the starting rotations for Tampa Bay and Baltimore entering the weekend: The Rays are starting three straight relievers as part of a continuing experiment and the Orioles are countering with ... TBA.
The Orioles (16-34) have the second-worst team ERA in baseball at 5.13 and went into Thursday's games having allowed a majors-high 495 hits. That TBA is expected to be rookie David Hess, who will make his third career start, two weeks after making his debut against the Rays.
The Rays (23-25) are a bit more complicated, battling all kinds of injuries to their starting rotation, which now has more relievers than actual starters.
The official plan for the weekend is three straight "bullpen days" -- reliever Sergio Romo, 35, who had opened his career with 588 consecutive relief appearances, started on back-to-back days last week, the Rays knowing full well he would only get three and four outs in those two appearances.
This weekend, the plan is for Romo to start on Friday and Sunday, with another reliever, Ryan Stanek, getting the nod on Saturday. The Rays split Romo's two games last weekend, and he didn't allow a run or hit in his two appearances.
"We're not trying to do anything that's cute," Rays manager Kevin Cash said of the decidedly outside-the-box thinking. "We're trying to do something that's right for us to win games."
Romo is 1-0 with a 4.34 ERA this season and 1-0 in his career with a 4.05 ERA in eight outings against Baltimore, which has a right-handed heavy top of their order he's likely to face.
The relievers the Rays are most likely to use an inning or so later are Ryan Yarbrough (who has three starts this season and a 3.54 ERA), left-hander Anthony Banda (5.40 ERA with one start) and Austin Pruitt (4.91 ERA, with five relief outings of 50-plus pitches, including two of five innings or more).
Don't laugh, but the Rays' ERA leaders right now are two position players, Daniel Robertson and Johnny Field, who have thrown one scoreless inning each.
Baltimore went into Thursday's games with only the Chicago White Sox (15-32) with a worse winning percentage in the majors. The Orioles expected to turn to Hess, a 24-year-old right-hander who has been solid at Triple-A Norfolk with a 2.12 ERA in six starts.
Hess made his major league debut two weeks ago, holding the Rays to three runs in six innings for his first career win. On Sunday, he lasted only 4 2/3 innings against Boston, giving up eight hits and five runs to put him at 1-1 with 6.75 ERA after two starts.
The Orioles have regular starters as planned the rest of the weekend, with Andrew Cashner and Kevin Gausman on Sunday. The two teams rank in baseball's top five in bullpen runs allowed -- the Rays are third with 92, the Orioles next with 90.
Tampa Bay gets a welcome boost next week, when Nathan Eovaldi is expected to start Monday or Tuesday as he recovers from elbow surgery, pitching for the first time since 2016 with the New York Yankees.