ANAHEIM, Calif. — The difference between Rick Porcello’s dominance in 2018 and his disappointment in 2017 could be summed up by the 83 mph hanging slider he served Wednesday night to Albert Pujols.

It was an absolute cookie to a guy who has 617 career home runs and never had trouble with Porcello.

But instead of jacking it some 450 feet over the center-field wall, Pujols left it shy of the warning track.

Porcello went six scoreless innings to lower his ERA to 1.40, and the Boston Red Sox beat the Los Angeles Angels 9-0, a night after a 10-1 victory.

That slider Porcello threw to Pujols? Last year that pitch would have been “hit for home runs,” Sox pitching coach Dana LeVangie said.

Why not this year?

“A lot of things go into it,” LeVangie said. “Pitching inside effectively allows those misses to get mishit rather than squared up. That’s what he’s doing. If you pitch in with your pitch mix, sometimes that allows mistakes to go unnoticed in the heart of the plate.”

With an offense averaging more than six runs per game this season, the starting rotation doesn’t need to be perfect. But it’s been close.

After Porcello’s strong start, the Sox have three starters ranked in the top 30 in the majors by ERA. Chris Sale ranks fifth with a 1.23 ERA, Porcello is tied for ninth at 1.40 and David Price is tied for 25th at 2.25.

Porcello, the first pitcher in the majors to reach four wins, has begun even stronger than in 2016, when he won the Cy Young Award.

The change started in November, the day after LeVangie was named pitching coach. He called Porcello and “we had an hour conversation with the things I had to do to get back to being effective,” Porcello said. “And that’s pretty much what I focused on all offseason, spring training. He’s the one who put the game plan together. I’m just trying to execute it.”

What was that conversation about?

“For me it was pretty simple,” LeVangie said. “His sinker is really good – getting back and establishing that. But the other pitches are going to help the sinker. It’s not just one pitch that makes it all work. It’s, how do you clone your pitches in a part of the strike zone to make all these things work?

“He can do so many different things. He was two different pitchers (against the Angels). He was a four-seam pitcher early in the game and then we got back to doing what he does: Sinker down in the zone, cloning all your pitches in the bottom of the zone. The score allowed him to do that. It’s a lot of fun to watch.”

After allowing an MLB-worst 38 homers last year, Porcello has yet to allow one through four starts. His 4-0 record matches his start through four games in 2016. Plus he hasn’t walked a batter in 222/3 innings.

Manager Alex Cora said the big difference is in Porcello’s change-up, which Carlos Beltran mentioned during the playoffs last year. When Porcello was great in 2016, Beltran told Cora, the change-up was a dominant pitch.

“That’s one of the parts of the conversation,” LeVangie said. “His change-up usage went down last year for a lot of different reasons. I felt he was throwing it differently. I didn’t think he was throwing it with conviction. And we’ve gotten back to it and it’s become a plus pitch, a pitch to get outs, a pitch to get strikeouts. A really good pitch for him right now.”

The offense was behind Porcello again, scoring one in the first inning, then five in the third when Rafael Devers hit a grand slam. J.D. Martinez and Mitch Moreland also homered.

But Porcello’s dominance has been perhaps the biggest surprise of the season. He’s undoubtedly different. The numbers show it.

KNUCKLEBALLER STEVEN Wright will begin a rehab assignment Friday with Triple-A Pawtucket. He’s recovering from knee surgery.

SHORTSTOP XANDER Bogaerts (ankle) took batting practice with the team again Wednesday but Cora said there’s no rush to get him back.