By: Brian Frank
Brandon Eisert’s path to Sahlen Field began in the Pacific Northwest, where he starred at Aloha High School in Oregon. He then went on to pitch for Oregon State University, where he was a key contributor to a College World Series championship team.
“It’s like an hour and a half from where I grew up,” Eisert said of his decision to attend OSU in a recent interview. “That was always my favorite team growing up – Oregon State Baseball. If there was ever a chance to play there, I was always going to take it.”
Eisert leads the Herd with 45 pitching appearances this season. Photo Credit: Brian Frank, The Herd Chronicles
Eisert had a strong freshman season for the Beavers. In 21 relief appearances, he struck out 50 batters in 46 2/3 innings pitched, finished with a 5-0 record, a 2.70 ERA, four saves, and was named a Freshman All-American.
“I mean coming in as a freshman, you’re not sure how much you’re going to get to play,” he said. “You see all these other guys that are throwing hard or doing whatever. So it’s just kind of go in there and compete to the best of my ability to try to pitch when I could. I was fortunate to get quite a few innings.”
The Beavers advanced to the College World Series his freshman season, before eventually falling in the semifinals.
“It was an unreal experience,” he remembered. “Our team finished 56-6. We had a couple 20-game win streaks. It was a lot of fun just having that success playing with all those great players – most of them for two years, like (Nick) Madrigal, (Steven) Kwan, and (Trevor) Larnach.”
Eisert’s catcher for all three of his college seasons was current Baltimore Oriole, and American League All-Star, Adley Rutchman.
“Obviously he’s an incredible catcher,” Eisert said. “He’s just a great guy to throw to. You don’t have to worry about baserunners too much because he’s able to throw them out. His framing helps get you some strikes, his blocking, just everything he can do. He was kind of a security blanket when you’re pitching out there. He was awesome to be able to play with. I knew him a little bit growing up because he was from close to home. I played with him a couple times, but not too much. So getting into college and having him for all three years was pretty nice.”
“His freshman year he struggled hitting a little bit, but you could tell just based off his catching that he was going to be something special. Then once he turned it around his sophomore year – from then on you were like this guy is going to be something special.”
Things only got better for Eisert during his sophomore season, as the Beavers once again advanced to the College World Series in Omaha.
“It was unbelievable obviously,” Eisert smiled. “We went the year before and didn’t quite make it to the finals. So the whole goal and the mission was to finish the job that year. It was a crazy ride, especially at the College World Series. We lost the first game and had to battle our way back through and comeback, then lost the first game of the finals and had to battle our way back in them.”
Set to deliver another strike. Photo Credit: Brian Frank, The Herd Chronicles
Eisert played a big role in the team’s success in Omaha. He fired four shutout innings of relief against North Carolina in the College World Series opener. Six days later, he came out of the bullpen to hurl five and one-third scoreless frames, allowing only one hit and one walk, in Oregon State’s 12-2 victory over Mississippi State.
“Just trying to save our bullpen as much as possible, especially because we’d already lost the first game, so we knew we were going to be playing a lot,” he said. “So, just trying to save arms as much as possible. Go out there, throw strikes, get outs, and just kind of take it one step at a time, and go as long as I could for the team.”
He then pitched five innings against Arkansas in Game Two of the finals, allowing two runs while fanning seven batters, in a 5-3 win that forced a decisive Game Three, which the Beavers won 5-0 to become NCAA champions.
“Game Two against Arkansas was one of the craziest game I’ve ever been a part of,” he smiled. “That was really fun. Sometimes you go back and watch and still get the goosebumps of what happened in those games. Yeah, it was awesome.”
Eisert finished his sophomore season 5-3 with five saves and a 2.53 ERA in 57 innings pitched. Despite all his success in the bullpen, he transitioned to a starter’s role during his junior year.
“I think it was about half way through the year,” he remembered. “One of our starters at the beginning of the year got hurt and he was going to be out for the season, so they were just looking for someone to be able to fill in that spot.”
“They were like – ‘Hey, you’re going to start this upcoming Friday.’ I hadn’t started since high school, so it was a little bit of an adjustment. But I enjoyed starting. I just kind of had to change my routine a little bit. I enjoyed starting and I enjoyed relieving – any way to get out there pitching.”
In 14 games, including seven starts, he went 8-2 with a 2.03 ERA and 74 strikeouts in 62 innings pitched, before a partial tear in the UCL of his pitching elbow ended his season early.
Despite his injury, which didn’t require surgery, he was selected by the Blue Jays in the 18th round of the 2019 Major League Baseball June Amateur Draft.
“It was a little tough,” he said of the decision to turn pro. “Especially with missing the end of my junior season with an injury. You kind of want to finish your career by playing obviously – and you’re with all your close friends, so you don’t want to leave them. But by that time, after I thought about it, it was the right decision to start my pro career – and it was awesome to get drafted by the Blue Jays. It was a dream come true to be taken.”
Eisert had a 3.51 ERA in 45 games for the Herd last season. Photo Credit: Brian Frank, The Herd Chronicles
He spent the rest of 2019 and the beginning of 2020 rehabbing his arm before reporting to his first professional spring training in Dunedin, Florida.
“I came to spring training in 2020 for about two weeks before we got shut down,” he recalled. “I just went back home. I was staying in Corvallis finishing school. I just went back there with my teammates who were still on the team. I worked out with them and played catch with them. I kind of got all the baseball stuff with my old teammates and finished school up in Corvallis. It ended up working out fairly well considering the circumstances.”
Eisert returned to the mound in 2021 for his first game-action in two years due to his injury and the Covid shutdown.
“It had been a long time,” he said. “It was just nice to be out there and compete and show what I could do for the organization because I really didn’t have a chance to do that up until then.”
After two games with Low-A Dunedin, Eisert moved up to the High-A Vancouver Canadians. Since the U.S.-Canada border was still closed due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the Canadians played their home games at Ron Tonkin Field in Hillsboro, Oregon, home of the Hillsboro Hops.
“Hillsboro is actually only about 15 minutes from my house,” he said. “I got to live at home, which was super nice. I was able to be with family going through the first season, which helped a lot. Just being in a comfortable environment going through pro ball was nice.”
He posted a 4.05 ERA in 20 relief appearances for the Canadians, striking out 60 batters in 46 2/3 innings. In early August, he was promoted to Double-A New Hampshire, where he had a 2.63 ERA and 17 strikeouts in 13 2/3 innings.
During spring training in 2022, his first career appearance on the big-league side was a memorable one. His first time pitching for the Blue Jays, he entered the game with the bases loaded and nobody out – and then proceeded to strike out the side.
“I think it was the first spring training game that year,” he remembered. “I just went as a backup just in case and then ended up getting in. My parents were actually visiting for spring training and it happened to be right at that time. It was awesome that they got to see that. That was great to kind of be able to showcase in front of the coaches and everyone.”
The next day, Charlie Montoyo, the Blue Jays manager at the time, made a surprise appearance on the minor-league side of the spring training complex. Montoyo gave a short speech acknowledging the job Eisert had done the day before and presented him with a gift.
“I was surprised,” Eisert beamed. “I didn’t really know what was going on. It was nice to get the recognition from the coaches. Being able to perform in front of them and almost like get your name on the map a little bit was nice. It was a nice gesture by him to come out there.”
Last season was the lefty’s first at Triple-A. He ended up putting up terrific numbers – a 3.41 ERA in 45 appearances, and 77 strikeouts versus only 15 walks in 60 2/3 innings pitched.
“I had to show up a little late to Buffalo,” he said. “I was almost going to start in New Hampshire and then Buffalo needed some guys. So it was just kind of come out and compete and perform to the best of your ability – and hopefully get to stay around. I was fortunate enough to stay around the whole year. It was a little bit of an adjustment to the higher level – a little bit older guys, more veteran approaches – so I was adjusting to that. Just having a plan when I’m pitching, trusting my stuff, and taking it day by day.”
Walking in from the bullpen with catcher Stevie Berman. Photo Credit: Brian Frank, The Herd Chronicles
He’s having another solid season out of the Bisons bullpen this year. He hit a few bumps in the road in April, but since May 1, he has a 3.00 ERA in 39 innings pitched, striking out 44 batters and holding opponents to a .203 batting average.
Eisert mixes a four-seam fastball with a changeup and slider to get hitters out. He developed his changeup and slider while pitching in college.
“I struggled with it at first,” he said of his changeup, “especially in college with finding the right grip. Then my pitching coach (Nate Yeskie, currently the pitching coach at LSU) showed me a little split-finger type one, not a circle-change like I’d been struggling with. I got comfortable with that one and was able to throw it a little more consistently. I’ve just been sticking with that and each day you get a little bit more consistent because you get more experience.”
“I threw a curveball in college too and then just kind of moved on to just working on the slider and keeping that consistent and finding the right grip. I was still working on it through ’21, kind of found the right grip, and just kind of stuck with it from there.”
Bisons manager Casey Candaele is delighted to have the Oregon native coming out of the Bisons bullpen. After being second on the team with 45 pitching appearances last season, Eisert has already come out of the Bisons bullpen a team leading 45 times this season. With about two months left in the season, the team’s modern-era record of 57 games pitched in a season, held by Fernando Cabrera (2012) and Rich Batchelor (1998), seems to be within reach.
“He just attacks hitters,” Candaele said. “He has the ability to throw all his pitches for strikes and he can throw them all strike to ball. That’s important. And he doesn’t have big misses. When a pitcher throws and he doesn’t have big misses and he’s around the zone, hitters seem to chase more. They go after pitches that are borderline because the guy is in the zone a lot. He’s utilized his slider and changeup a little bit more than he did earlier in the season to high effectiveness. He’s got a high fastball that’s really hard to hit. He just goes out and goes after people. He’s not scared. He’s been really successful for us.”