The Yankees' second baseman was pulled from Sunday's game after the fourth inning and benched after he did not chase a ball hit by the Rays' Cliff Floyd. Girardi cited a lack of effort on the ground ball, which Floyd hustled into a double.
"This is a game where you have to play hard every day," Girardi said. "There are people that are hungry that want your job. Our job is to play hard and give your best every day. That's what we ask, and you need to do it on a daily basis, because there's people that want to do it."
The play in question came as Carl Pavano was beginning his fourth inning of work. Floyd hit a grounder to the right side that Jason Giambi made a diving stab for, but the ball ricocheted off of Giambi's glove and shot into shallow right-center field.
Cano had broken to his left for the ball and was backing up Giambi, but saw the ball redirect and moved slowly after it, standing in place for a few extra beats before finally beginning a slow jog to chase it. Floyd took advantage, seeing the play develop and beating it for a double.
Girardi said he never asked Cano for an explanation, saying, "That's a ball that you have to hustle after and get to keep Cliff Floyd from getting to second." He would not commit to playing Cano on Monday, when the Yankees open a four-game series with the White Sox.
Cano said that he passed Giambi and originally thought right fielder Xavier Nady was closer to the ball, but said he was in the wrong and should have chased it.
"They've got a better view than where I was," Cano said. "I would say they're doing the right thing."
Asked what he would do if he had a second chance, Cano said he would "go out and get the ball, and show them that I'd still like to be there and help the team and I've got a passion for the game. It's not that I just see the ball and I'm lazy."
Yankees captain Derek Jeter said that, in fairness to Cano, he would let the second baseman answer for his own actions, but said, "I'm sure that won't happen again, I guess that's the best way to put it," Jeter said.
"You've got to respect the manager," Mariano Rivera added. "If that happened, I knew that Joe would do the right thing. [Cano] will respond well. He's a good kid."
In the first year of a four-year, $30 million contract, Cano's on-field demeanor has drawn criticism. He has struggled offensively, completing play on Sunday batting .260, and his plate discipline has suffered. Cano's .296 on-base percentage is the third-lowest amongst Major League regulars.
Girardi has continually defended Cano's effort on the field, bristling when it is suggested that Cano evokes a nonchalant attitude. But Girardi's tone struck a decidedly different note on Sunday.
"Part of this game is you're going to be frustrated and you still have to do everything else," Girardi said. "You're not always going to get a hit, some years you're not going to hit what you did the year before, some years you're going to hit better. But the bottom line is, you have to play hard, every day."
Cano said that even though the season has been disappointing, he has kept his effort level high.
"Sometimes it seems like I'm not hustling or playing hard, but you guys all see me here early every day, even though I've been struggling the whole year," Cano said. "I go out early and I've never been late."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.