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06/15/12 7:22 PM ET

Nats' skipper Johnson has history with Yanks

WASHINGTON -- Davey Johnson is plenty familiar with the Yankees after eight seasons in the American League East as a player and two as a manager. When he saw that he would face the Yankees and the rest of the division in Interleague Play this season with Washington, he was happy to accept the challenge.

"I have some good memories [against the Yankees]. I have some bad memories of a 12-year-old reaching over the [fence] and catching the ball," said Johnson, who managed the Orioles in the 1996 AL Championship Series, when Yankees fan Jeffrey Maier caught a fly ball in play and pulled it across the right-field fence for a home run.

Johnson entered Friday 12-18 in his career as a manager against the Yankees -- including a 4-1 series loss in that ALCS -- and said their lineup presents the toughest matchup challenges he has seen yet in Washington.

"I think our division or the American League East division is the best in baseball," Johnson said. "There's not going to be any let-up. It tests your merit."

Count Harper as longtime admirer of Yanks

WASHINGTON -- Bryce Harper grew up during a dominant era of Yankees baseball, so without any local teams to root for, the Las Vegas native cheered for New York.

The 19-year-old rookie faced the Yankees on Friday at Nationals Park, where he hit second and played center field for the Nats, as he continues to cross marquee first-time matchups off his list. It was a series at Fenway Park last week -- Harper homered in his debut there. Now it's the 27-time World Series champions.

"That whole team is under a microscope, they all have targets on them. They're the New York Yankees," Harper said. "For all of them to come in here and play their game, know how to play and not worry about anything else around them, is huge. That's what I'm trying to do also."

Harper is a well-documented student of the game, and that includes Yankees history. He tries to emulate Mickey Mantle's style of play, but pointed out it's not just the Yankees great he models his game after.

"Cal Ripken Jr., Mickey Mantle, George Brett, Pete Rose -- there's a lot of guys that I really look up to," Harper said.

That includes Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez, who spent the entirety of their careers in the same type of spotlight Harper has operated under since he was 15 years old.

"Jeter's the face of baseball," Harper said. "He's going to be a Hall of Famer. If I can come out here and play the game like him ... I think I'll be OK."

Harper said he did not have any plans to speak to any Yankees during batting practice, saying "I don't like to bother people." But he received a text of support recently from Robinson Cano, whose left-handed swing compares to Harper's.

Harper approached Cano during his first Spring Training in 2010, and the pair have kept in touch periodically since.

"He can throw, run, hit," Cano said. "The thing is, he's only 19. I know he's going to be criticized and things, but I hope people understand he's only 19, and it's very hard to come up to this level with this opportunity to learn and improve. Sometimes you've got to say, 'He's a young kid, he's not even 20 yet.' Hopefully he learns quick and soon, because he's got all the talent to be here for a long time."

Trio of Nats relievers progressing in rehab

WASHINGTON -- Injured closer Drew Storen has played catch daily for about a week now, and threw off a mound "a couple times," but the Nationals' training staff still tells manager Davey Johnson that Storen is at least three weeks away from returning from April surgery to remove bone chips from his right elbow.

"We're going to have him here in about a week, and I'll have a better idea once I've seen him and talked to him," Johnson said. "[Pitching coach Steve] McCatty feels the same way. I think he can come back pretty quick, and hopefully it will be ahead of the schedule the trainers have set out for him."

Johnson believes his pitching staff, from the rotation to the bullpen, is the best in baseball, and it could also welcome relievers Ryan Mattheus and Henry Rodriguez soon.

Mattheus pitched twice this week for Class A Potomac and Double-A Harrisburg, and Johnson said he the right-hander is getting close to a return from the plantar fascia strain in his left foot that landed him on the 15-day disabled list.

Johnson said Rodriguez, who temporarily held the closer role earlier this season, could begin rehab from his strained right index finger Saturday or Sunday.

Worth noting

• On Friday, first baseman Mark Teahen became eligible to opt out of the Minor League contract he signed with Washington in February because he was not in the Major Leagues, but he remained in the Triple-A Syracuse lineup hitting third. Teahen has seven years of big league experience and is hitting .293 with 42 RBIs through 64 games with Syracuse.

• Lucas Giolito, the Nationals' first-round selection in the First-Year Player Draft, took in batting practice Friday behind the batting cage with team officials.

Steven Miller is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.