Cano said that he told Girardi he was prepared to play and that the benching had nothing to do with his left ankle, which had been spiked on a play at second base on Wednesday against the Braves in Atlanta.
"I was surprised, but he's the manager and he's the one that decides," Cano said. "Obviously things happen for a reason. He said, 'Be ready any time.'"
Cano had started all 62 of New York's previous games this season, with two dates serving as the club's designated hitter.
Jayson Nix, who was 3-for-7 lifetime with a home run against Nationals starter Gio Gonzalez, made the start at second base in Cano's place. Cano had been hitless in nine at-bats against Gonzalez.
"We're going to have this stretch of games, then we've got 13 in a row," Girardi said. "I felt if there's a time to do it, now is the time. Nixy has seen Gio, had some success off him, so I figured it works out OK."