BALTIMORE -- Understand that the fire that burns inside Rick Porcello has always been there.
True, it's been on more frequent and obvious display more often this season. It was evident a month ago when he thought New York Yankees third baseman Chase Headley had been sneaking a peek at the catcher's set-up, and told Headley, sprawled out at third base, in no uncertain terms.
It was evident again Monday night when, after plunking Manny Machado in the fourth inning, he jawed with Machado as the Orioles superstar took his base, and in the process, directed some unpleasantries toward Porcello.
It's been there all along, but Porcello has come to understand that there's a right time and a wrong time to show it.
Last season, his first with the Red Sox, was not the right time, as it turned out.
"When you're going out there and getting your brains beat in every fifth day,'' said Porcello, in reference to his poor 2015 season with the Red Sox, "you don't really have a lot to stand on there. So I think when you're in a different position, you're more apt to maybe express yourself a little bit more and things like that.''
Porcello is, indeed, in a different position this season. After posting an ERA that was nearly 5.00 last season, he's cut almost two runs off his ERA this season and is baseball's winningest pitcher, with 21 wins to his credit after a complete-game, 89-pitch masterpiece that opened the Red Sox' series with the Baltimore Orioles Monday night.
A year ago, he was the target of boos at Fenway, some of them driven by the fact that he signed a four-year $82.5 million contract extension before he had thrown a regular-season pitch for the franchise.
Those circumstances are not exactly conducive to on-field swagger Instead, more often than not last year, Porcello fairly slinked off the mound after most starts.
Not this year.
Porcello is a leading candidate for the A.L. Cy Young Award, and he walks with his head held high, and maybe, just maybe a bit of a chip on his shoulder.
He watched former teammates like Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer pitch with an attitude, and now Porcello, too, feels he can do the same.
"You can call it swagger or confidence or whatever you want to call it,'' he said. "But that's something that players notice and when you're going up opponents, I don't want them to look at me as some kind of quiet, timid guy on the mound. I want them to know that I'm confident.
"Obviously, I want to be respectful and I'm not going to be hot-doggish or anything like that. But I want to be able to show that I'm confident, too. That's only going to help you when they step in the box. They're not going to be as comfortable.''
Porcello isn't looking for trouble or confrontation. But he won't apologize for pitching inside, and he won't, as he demonstrated Monday night, listen to any suggestion that he was intentionally trying to hit anyone -- especially with the A.L. home-run leader Mark Trumbo on the on-deck circle.
So if it means firing back at Machado, or calling out Headley, Porcello is willing to be heard.
But there's a fine line, too.
"There's a difference between pitching with an edge or with a chip on your shoulder,'' he said, "and also pitching emotionally and out of control.''
David Price was also a teammate -- briefly -- of Porcello in Detroit and isn't surprised by what he's seen this year.
"He's definitely pitched with a purpose this year,'' noted Price. "He wanted to go out there and be the successful pitcher he's capable of being. When it's his day, get out of his way, don't talk to him. He's been in the zone and that's something he's picked up this year.
"Every guy is different. Rick does it the right way. He's not doing anything to cross the line, but he's definitely got that chip on his shoulder and that's part of the reason he's had the kind of success he's had.''
It's all come together this year. Porcello has mixed precise command -- one walk in his last six starts -- a biting two-seam fastball down in the zone and a little bit of fire.
He's gotten to know himself on the mound.
"Being able to channel it the right way can work to your advantage,'' said Porcello. "I'm not an high octane, upper-90s velocity type of guy. I can elevate the ball and generate a swing-and-miss there, but it's not something where I can get myself pumped up, rear back and blow 99 mph by somebody. I've got to find the right way for me to use it. It's taken me a long time to figure that out.
"I think it's something that I've been able to feed off of and ride that out as long as I can, because it's been working.''