FORT MYERS, Fla. — The best game Rick Porcello pitched last season began with a 2-0 fastball down the middle of the plate to one of baseball’s most aggressive hitters.

Porcello had fallen behind Adam Jones of Baltimore with two sinkers below the strike zone, putting Jones in position to sit on a fastball and hit it hard. What Porcello threw next probably wasn’t exactly the pitch he wanted to throw, either.

But because Porcello had spent all season demonstrating an ability to hit all four edges of the strike zone – and because his sinker had such ferocious tail to it – Jones couldn’t just sit on a batting-practice fastball. He had to cover the entire strike zone. When he took a swing at what looked like an enticing pitch, he rolled a weak grounder to short. It was the first out of what wound up as an 89-pitch complete game.

“For hitters, it’s not just about looking for the fastball, it’s about looking for the fastball in a location,” Red Sox pitching coach Carl Willis said. “That’s why (Porcello) would do what he does with his fastball. His command of the strike zone is so good. It’s not just throwing strikes. It’s in, out, up, down. He can throw the four-seamer in to lefties. He can throw the four-seamer at them and bring it back. Not only does he widen his plate with his fastball, he can go up and down with the fastball.”

Porcello didn’t win the Cy Young Award a year ago by overpowering hitters. Each of the other top-five finishers in the voting induced more swings and misses. He finished in the bottom half of qualifying American League starters in strikeout rate.

What Porcello did so brilliantly was pitch in the strike zone with purpose.

He compiled the second-lowest walk rate in the major leagues (behind only Josh Tomlin). He threw the third-highest rate of pitches in the strike zone (behind only Danny Duffy and Bartolo Colon).

And while there’s a danger inherent in spending too much time in the strike zone, particularly for a pitcher without upper-90s velocity, Porcello thrived because he could spot his sinker anywhere in the strike zone. He could spot a sinker at the knees as easily as he could spot a four-seamer at the letters. He could execute a cutter on the inside corner as easily as he could a change-up down and away.

“It’s the mindset you get when you know you’re putting the ball where you want to and you don’t necessarily have to leave the strike zone to get guys out,” Porcello said. “That’s also part of just my mindset from when I came up to the big leagues – first and foremost, I want to establish my fastball to both sides of the plate and induce weak contact.”

“Command inside the strike zone with intent – to be able to move the ball around, to elevate pitches by design, change speeds – he epitomizes that,” Manager John Farrell said.

That Porcello could thrive without classic chase pitches was particularly remarkable in an era when hitters have regained their aggressiveness.

Swing rates across Major League Baseball declined steadily in the post-2002 “Moneyball” era as drawing walks and driving up pitch counts came into fashion. But swing rates across the game have climbed since 2010, in part of reaction to the increasing dominance of high-velocity pitchers, especially relievers.

No longer is it good strategy to take pitches early and risk falling behind in counts. No longer is it good strategy to try to get a starting pitcher out of a game. It now behooves hitters to jump on the first fastball they get and try to hit it hard somewhere.

Major League Baseball’s collective swing rate bottomed out at 44.8 percent in 2009, the first year Porcello pitched in the major leagues. Every single team compiled a swing rate of 45 percent or higher in 2016. The Red Sox, once the team defined by “Moneyball” hero Kevin Youkilis, swung at 46.1 percent of pitches – sixth-most in the major leagues.

“Guys are more aggressive now than they have been in years past,” Porcello said. “Right out of the gate, guys are swinging. It’s not like you’re getting a get-me-over, cookie fastball for strike one. You’ve got to start pitching and establishing from the get-go.”

It’s no longer enough to have a swing-and-miss breaking ball to utilize with two strikes. The only way for pitchers to get to two strikes these days is to pitch effectively in the strike zone from the start.

Both of the game’s Cy Young Award winners last season – Porcello and ex-Detroit teammate Max Scherzer, now with Washington – ranked among the top 10 pitchers in the game in frequency of strikes thrown.

David Price and Chris Sale, who join with Porcello this season as part of a formidable Red Sox rotation, ranked 10th and 13th in the major leagues, respectively, in frequency of pitches in the strike zone.

But while Scherzer ranked second in Major League Baseball in strikeout rate, Porcello ranked 34th. Porcello didn’t expect to miss bats. He expected to miss the barrel of the bat and get weak contact.

Pitching to contact can be less sustainable than pitching to miss bats. Porcello had a significantly lower batting average on balls in play (.269) than his career average before last season (.314). That’s an indication he might have benefited from a bit of good fortune and could expect some regression in his numbers.

But a pitcher who can stay off the barrel of the bat, as Porcello did a year ago, can have consistent success.

“Against more aggressive lineups, if you can identify their weaknesses and you can execute to those zones of the strike zone, you’ve got a chance to get some quick outs,” Porcello said. “Their whole philosophy is to be relentless. They’re not thinking about taking pitches and drawing walks. If you can expand and hit those zones you want to hit, you’ve got a chance to pitch deep into the game.”